From Shadows to Spotlight: Drag Queens Slay Stigmas of the Past!

From Shadows to Spotlight: Drag Queens Slay Stigmas of the Past!

“We are all unique in our ways, but celebrating together makes us all the same” – Manila Luzon

A screen grab of the show “Drag Den” in which Manila Luzon, the executive producer and host, flaunts her outfit. (Photo | Reddit/Shimithas)

Filipino-American drag artist Manila Luzon has become a trailblazer in the constantly evolving arena of artistic expression and cultural acceptance. Among her remarkable experiences is her participation in the third season of RuPaul’s Drag Race and subsequently in the first and fourth seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars. In addition to her captivating drag shows, Manila possesses diverse talents as a television personality, comedian, and musician. She has actively participated in raising awareness about AIDS and engaging in activism. Furthermore, she had the opportunity to showcase her talents in a variety of national and international events across the United States and Canada, including notable celebrations like New York and Vancouver Pride. This demonstrates how her influence spans international platforms. Manila takes on significant roles as the host, head judge, and executive producer of the inaugural Philippine drag reality competition, Drag Den. Drag has transformed into a dynamic art form, as artists explore diverse identities through makeup, clothing, and performance. It is now widely accepted and valued, marking a significant shift from the past.

On the other side, Drag Den season 1 contestant, Pura Luka Vega was arrested by the Manila Police District regarding a presumed violation of Article 201 of the Revised Penal Code, which deals with the dissemination of “immoral doctrines, obscene publications and exhibitions, and indecent shows” following their performance of a rock rendition of The Lord’s Prayer dressed as Jesus Christ. After posting bail, Luka was released, but the incident led to several cities declaring Luka “persona non grata.” The performance offended many Christians and Catholics, who deemed it blasphemous. In response, Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, cautioned critics, emphasizing the importance of recognizing Christ in marginalized individuals rather than focusing solely on religious icons. 

Amadeus Fernando Pagente also known as Pura Luka Vega is put behind bars by the Manila Police District following their performance of a rock rendition of The Lord’s Prayer dressed as Jesus Christ (Photo | AFP/GettyImages /Jam Rosa)

These are just some of the events that led the country to recognize the world of the drag community more. Drag has always been present in the Philippines; in fact, it was initially featured in local media in the late 1990s when Dolphy Quizon, the country’s comedy king, played a hyperfeminine homosexual man in one of his films, “Ang Nanay Kong Tatay,” which debuted in 1978. Additionally, Eat Bulaga’s segment, ‘Doble Kara’, which lasted from 1993 to 2000, showcased talented contestants dressing one-half of their bodies as men while the other half was dressed in female garments. These days, there are several different drag-themed shows and competitions. One well-known example is Drag Race Philippines, a spin-off of RuPaul’s Drag Race, where different drag artists compete in various tasks that test their abilities, creativity, and talents.

A drag artist who is studying at the University of Makati (UMak) shared their feelings on the topic of drag.

  “Masaya kasi parang nag-create siya ng other world para sa akin and doon ko na eexpress yung sarili ko.”  

Another statement from a UMak alumni who is starting their career as a drag artist said, “Masaya when doing drag lalo na kapag nagpeperform ka sa madaming tao, nagkakaroon ng connection with your audience” 

In addition, they expressed their driving force behind drag, 

“I’m very passionate about doing drag and it motivates me more to see so many young artists…and it’s a safe place for us.”

For these two drag artists from UMak, engaging in it presents its own set of challenges,

“Yes, lalo na di tanggap ng family ko yung pagmamake-up and everything”  pointing out the problems about family’s acceptance.

“Drag is not easy, make up, outfit and performances mahirap siya [para sa] mga nag-uumpisa pa lang. At makaka-encounter ka ng mga taong homophobic at mararanasan mo yung discrimination kahit saan. Kaya kailangan mo maging matapang na harapin yung mga challenges na yun” 

Drag has an impact not only on artists but also on supporters who find valuable lessons behind it. UMak students who support it shared insights. One mentioned, “Being different is the real definition of beauty.” Another quoted Drag artist Eva Le Queen’s song: “All the things that you can’t do are not the things that define you. Find your purpose in your heart, and nothing can stop you.” These words inspired self-acceptance and the recognition that vulnerability is acceptable. They learned to be there for themselves and apply the motto “You just had a bad day, not a bad drag” to life, emphasizing resilience despite challenges.

Highly associated with the LGBTQIA+ community, many people assume that drag is solely for this type of audience, which is just one of the stereotypes perpetuated by society. Drag is diverse and doesn’t discriminate based on a person’s gender. Enthusiasts see it as a place for everyone. One individual mentioned, “Drag is not exclusive only for LGBTQ+. Drag is like a personality, it has its soul…you express something in you.” Another stated, “Drag is for everyone, as long as you appreciate their craft and respect their preferences.” Drag is an art form accessible to all; its limitations and stereotypes are perceived only by those with narrow, judgmental perspectives. More specifically, a UMak drag artist offered their views on what the university could do to support them.  

“Kailangan maging open sila sa mga student na drag queen gaya ko para ma-express yung creativity nila. And syempre support dapat sila sa mga member ng LGBTQIA+ para maiwasan yung discrimination” they shared.

Though the country is slowly accepting and recognizing the community, it is disheartening to consider that as of this writing, there is still no law passed in the Philippines that focuses on anti-discrimination for individuals of diverse genders. It is time to reconsider the passing of the SOGIE (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Expression) Bill in the Philippines top priority and thoughtful consideration. Adopting the SOGIE Bill into law demonstrates a commitment to diversity and recognizes the need to safeguard all citizens, no matter their gender identity, sexual orientation, or expression. The passage of this bill would be a progressive step toward ensuring the fundamental rights of every Filipino citizen and promoting equality as public awareness and acceptance of it grows.

Senator Risa Hontiveros–principal author of the SOGIE Equality Bill joins the Love Laban 2023 Pride March in Quezon City. (Photo | X/Instagram/Risa Hontiveros)

In education, drag artists often lack recognition due to schools’ misconceptions about drag as an art form. Yet, renowned universities like De La Salle, Ateneo De Manila, and the University of the Philippines are actively breaking these barriers. They support drag artists by welcoming them to events, where they share life stories, inspire others, and learn the culture of drag. Different organizations were also established to advocate inclusivity and to raise awareness of LGBTQIA+ issues in schools. This illustrates that it is not detrimental to the community or students; rather, it enlightens, educates, and broadens their perspectives.

Moreover, national organizations, similar to those mentioned, exist that advocate for drag artists and the queer community. In the second season of Drag Race Philippines, the showrunners collaborated with ‘The Golden Gays,’ a non-profit organization providing shelter and assistance to marginalized elderly LGBTQIA+ individuals. Although many Filipinos may not yet fully embrace drag artists and LGBTQIA+ communities, there is a gradual shift towards genuine acceptance and support, propelled by numerous organizations advocating for equality, human rights, and inclusivity.

Schools should be supportive spaces for students to pursue their passions without discrimination. It’s crucial to debunk outdated notions that expressing oneself through drag or wearing jewelry is harmful. UMak drag artists recently conveyed their message within the institution.

One of them stated, “Drag is also an art, talent, and passion na kailangan din pagtuunan ng pansin.” One of the messages highlighted that it is time to break the stereotypes and misconceptions about drag. “Be open, it’s already 2023. We should accept, support, and help them feel that they are part of the community. Drag is art, Drag is safe for everyone, drag is not a crime, and lastly, drag is political.” 

Drag Den Season 1 contestants showcase their ‘Pinoy Protest’ Runway theme wear. (Photo | Metroscene/Drag Den Season 1)

UMak students also aim to dispel drag myths, showing progress in these topics. A student highlights, “Misconceptions about drag will continue if the community will keep on neglecting drag artists a chance to share the truth.”  Another student comments, “Let them be as long as it does not hurt other people.” One emphasized, “You don’t need to accept if you cannot accept…be respectful regardless of the position or status of the person.”

The art of drag has emerged as a powerful and vibrant medium for self-expression. This has broken free from the shadows of the past. Embracing drag in an educational setting not only showcases inclusivity but also serves as a beacon of hope that everyone is worthy of being seen and acknowledged. Beyond Pride Month, schools like UMak should consistently show support for the LGBTQIA+ community, making them feel welcome and included regardless of the occasion. It should be a constant effort to promote inclusivity and understanding, pushing societal norms and guaranteeing a long-lasting influence on how gender expression and identity are interpreted. Drag artists are harmless; they are just ordinary people with creative minds who use art to awaken people’s senses of reality and to open the eyes of those who may have turned a blind eye. In this era, conversations about gender expression and identity should not be taboo anymore. It is high time to eradicate preconceived notions and put an end to stereotypes and misconceptions.